Underground is telling the story of Harriet Tubman, and if reaction to this week’s episode was any indication, they are doing it right.
The WGN drama premiered their “Minty” this week, an episode that completely revolves around Tubman’s pivotal role in the Underground Railroad and her relationship with Rosalee (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), who she believes was sent to her from God.
Playing the iconic abolitionist is actress Aisha Hinds, who’s starred in True Blood, Weeds and will play a pastor in Fox’s Shots Fired.
“I got the call and I knew that I was going to be playing Harriet Tubman, of course that’s when I try to do all of my actor homework, and quickly realized or was reminded that there’s no shortcut to this,” Hinds told ESSENCE about channeling Tubman for the role.
“There’s no YouTube available to go and look up Harriet Tubman and hear her vocal quality or see the way she walked. But in this case, that became so unimportant because her story sort of has such a life of its own and it’s so full, and the life that she lived was so full that really it was just to stand in a posture of service to that story. The story tells itself. Honestly, over time, I realized that it was just about being available to the words.”
Misha Green and Joe Pokaski wrote the powerful episode that gives an intimate view on the destructiveness of slavery and shows Tubman strength in helping her people escape to freedom.
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“Before we even started writing the second season, because we talked a lot about what we wanted to do with Harriet, how we wanted to introduce her, how she was going to be interwoven into our show and our fictional characters, because she is historical,” Green said about dedicating an entire episode to one character.
“You want to honor that and not completely make up stories for her. We talked about how to do that in our research, in what we were doing with finding out about her. We found out that in 1857, which is what year our show is set in this season, she started to give these talks. She would go around groups of like-minded abolitionists and talk about her life and try to inspire them to be more diligent in the cause and to donate to the cause. That kind of just was the spark, because I was like, ‘What if?'”
In the episode, both Hinds and Green hope viewers can take away the importance of women fighting for united causes — especially in light of the recent Women’s March on Washington.
“It’s amazing how Harriet Tubman was able to look at the conditions, and in spite of those conditions, press forward, and do so not just for herself but for so many others,” Hinds says.
“She created real estate in her heart to care for others beyond herself, which I wouldn’t even limit the feminist movement to being specific to black women, though we have the challenge of dealing with racial issues, as well as issues of being a woman and defending both positions, but just uniting, uniting with other women of other races and taking on the responsibility for all of those issues.”
Green added, “I think I told Aisha after we had finished and we had wrapped, I was like, ‘I’m not doing enough.’ I was like, “We got to keep pushing. We got to do more,” because to watch her embody that spirit, to read about that spirit, it’s that you have to do more.”
Watch Underground every Wednesday at 10/9c on WGN America.